Fair board makes switch to future

Inflatables, interactives to replace carnival this year

By Anna Jauhola
The Kittson County Fair is working toward becoming a niche market. This year, fairgoers will see a definite change in the annual event’s midway entertainment.
The fair board has secured Games Galore of Fargo, N.D., to provide inflatables and interactive games.
“These are not going to just be 17 bouncy houses. They are inflatables and interactive games,” said Loren Younggren, board member. “This wasn’t an easy issue. We’ve been debating it for the last few years.”
A few examples include an obstacle course, a mechanical pheasant (like a mechanical bull), a 22-foot tall slide, an archery game and a gladiator joust.
“We feel the midway view or setup will look equally if not more impressive than what we’ve had for years, just because of the amount of items and the size,” said Jeremy Folland, fair board president.
The fair board has been leaning toward this decision for a few years as carnivals are becoming harder to secure and more expensive. Over the last couple of years, fewer rides have been available for smaller fairs like Kittson County’s and mechanical failures or lack of workers has made it difficult to create the carnivals to which most are accustomed.
On top of that, scheduling has been a major issue. Younggren said sometimes they couldn’t get a carnival to commit to coming until January, only six months before the fair. That puts constraints on other types of entertainment the fair board can schedule.
“They run it like a business,” Folland said of the carnival. “Which they need to and we understand that.”
Also in the past the board never knows which rides the carnival will bring because small fairs are fill-ins while a carnival puts on larger events elsewhere.
On average, the Kittson County fair loses between $7,000 and $10,000 per year because they do not make any money on the carnival, which has recently cost the fair board $30,000. Folland said the fair struggles to generate $20,000, stating that would be a high year.
“It’s probably been 30 years or more since we’ve broken even on a carnival cost,” Folland said. “Part of that is there’s fewer people and carnival costs have gone up.”
While carnivals have provided great entertainment at Kittson County’s Free Gate Fair over the last 129 years, the board hopes to begin a new era with its 130th fair.
After hearing the theory that inflatables and interactive games, such as those offered by Games Galore, are the wave of the future for small fairs, the board began looking into the possibility.
After having trouble securing the carnival last year and then not receiving rides, the idea of inflatables became more appealing.
One board member previewed the possibilities of inflatables and interactive games at an event at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks.
“One thing he said was, ‘After walking through that, we can’t just shut the door and say we can’t do this, because there’s opportunity here,’” said Folland.
By booking Games Galore well ahead of time, this allows the board to begin booking grandstand acts, food vendors and other attractions for the fair much earlier.
“Last year with challenging, but by going with Games Galore, we know we’re getting 17 inflatables/ interactives,” Younggren said.
Should an issue arise, such as an inflatable doesn’t work when the crew arrives, Folland said the company will fix it or swap it with something else the same day or next day because they’re only a few hours away.
“This is a little less cost than a carnival, yes, but you’re getting so much more,” Younggren said. “With the carnival, they set the limits of the tickets and passes. With the inflatables, we can set our own mega pass and daily pass costs and hours. This will be a huge benefit to most people.”
The board paid a flat rate of $25,000 to Games Galore for the 17 inflatables and interactive games. This enabled them to drop the price of mega and daily passes as the cost of the entertainment is less than the carnival. Other than the fact the inflatables are not traditional carnival rides, Games Galore provides similar service as a carnival. They haul all the items on site, set them up and hire employees to manage each inflatable. And, since Games Galore does not bring food trucks, the fair board has been able to bring back some old favorites, like a corndog and lemonade stand.
Younggren and Folland are both hopeful that Games Galore, mixed with other activities at the fair like the Muck-n-Fun Run, lumberjack games and others, will draw in people from neighboring counties. While some people will still attend other fairs and ride traditional carnival rides, they believe Kittson County’s fair will be unique.
“The opportunities of this, we feel, outweigh not having the carnival,” Younggren said.
For more information about the rest of the events at this year’s 130th Kittson County Free Gate Fair, see Younggren’s article on page 7 of this edition and the fair premium inserted into this paper.

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